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Film festival, sponsors respond to ‘Rachel’ controversy

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Jump to: San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, Koret and Taube Foundations


Statement from the SFJFF, July 22:

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival launches its 29th festival this week with an exciting array of 71 films from 19 countries. We welcome Dana Doron as Board President, who succeeds Shana Penn.  Doron, who has served as Vice President of the Board, is a marketing executive, Stanford MBA and a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel. Penn, who has provided outstanding service as Board President, will continue to serve as a Board member.  

“I continue to support the goals and mission of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and the forum for cultural expression that it provides,” Penn stated. “The Festival has a justified reputation as an important institution in the Jewish community and beyond. But with healthy differences on how to approach sensitive issues, the Board, staff and I feel I can best serve SFJFF’s outstanding mission as a Board member rather than as its President.”

Executive Director Peter L. Stein added, “We commend Shana for her excellent service, and are truly excited to welcome our community to a stellar festival.”


An important message from the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, including an update on the July 25 screening of the film “Rachel”

SFJFF Mission Statement: 

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival promotes awareness, appreciation and pride in the diversity of the Jewish people.  Festival programs are meant to create community and strengthen consciousness of Jewish identity, history and culture, provide a dynamic and inclusive forum for exploration of and dialogue about the Jewish experience, and encourage independent filmmakers working with Jewish themes. 

Over 29 years, the Festival has earned an international reputation for presenting a remarkable array of films to an exceptionally diverse audience that welcomes the opportunity to be entertained, touched, educated, and challenged.  As a Jewish cultural and arts organization, we present films that sometimes include a significant dosage of self-criticism, which seems to be a hallmark of our people; every year, the Festival faces tough decisions about what belongs in or does not belong in our program, not least with respect to films about Israel. 

This year we are offering more films than ever before that focus on, celebrate, or inform us about Israel, including films about the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, Gilad Shalit and Ehud Goldwasser, and their families.  Taken together, these 37 films touch on a wide range of emotions, ideas, viewpoints, and themes. One film selection, “Rachel,” has become the subject of much criticism. 

We stand by the decision to show the film “Rachel.” The story of Rachel Corrie, an American activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and her death under disputed circumstances in Gaza, are relevant for all of us who care about Israel. It is made by a Jewish citizen of Israel and will receive its Israeli premiere at the prestigious Haifa International Film Festival this October. 

When we invited Rachel Corrie’s mother, Cindy Corrie, to respond to questions and answers following the film in open dialogue with the audience, we underestimated how polarizing this decision would be to many members of our broad community, especially in the absence of other viewpoints about the work of the International Solidarity Movement in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Dividing, let alone antagonizing, members of our community was never the Festival’s intention.  

We apologize for not fully considering how upsetting this program might be, and are taking the following steps to ameliorate the situation: 

We believe that, along with Cindy Corrie’s participation, offering our audience an additional perspective at the screening is appropriate, given the especially contested nature of its subject matter. We have invited Dr. Michael Harris, a founder of the grass roots advocacy group SF Voice for Israel, to speak to the audience immediately prior to the film and to provide a perspective that many in our community are concerned may not otherwise be available in the film or in the post-film discussion with our guest. While it is challenging to reformat the “Rachel” event at this late date without alienating one or another major segment of our community, we are confident that our audience will accept both speakers – Dr. Harris and Ms. Corrie – with courtesy and respect. 

We also are using our experience with this controversy as instructive in our self-evaluation and future planning. We believe that fostering dialogue and being open to different viewpoints is an inherently Jewish value, one that we try to cultivate in our programs. But there are no easy formulas when it comes to presenting controversial programming within an artistic festival that serves a diverse community.  Fortunately, our Board and staff will have time between this year’s Festival and next to talk with key stakeholders and partners, developing the best approaches that will continue to protect the quality and the integrity of the Festival, draw the broadest cross-section of our community to our programs, stimulate filmgoers, and address major potential controversies with utmost care and forethought. 

Finally, some confusion has arisen about the role of co-presenters at our Festival, including those for the film “Rachel.” After films have been selected by our program staff, the Festival invites promotion partners to assist in our outreach efforts to diverse communities of interest who may wish to attend. This year 57 community organizations are co-presenters during the course of the Festival; they do not fund or program the events.   

Thank you to all the members of our community who support the Festival in so many ways. We look forward to an outstanding Festival this year and hope you will join us.

Read SFJFF’s prior statement about the decision to program the film:


Statement from the Koret and Taube Foundations:

As staunch champions and allies of Israel, the Koret and Taube Foundations do not support any organization that promotes or provokes anti-Israel sentiment; nor do we provide funding to any organization whose mission runs counter to our position. While we have made no decision regarding future funding of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, we take issue in particular with three egregious errors in its upcoming presentation of the film, “Rachel”:

  • It is partnering with Jewish Voice for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee, two virulently anti-Israel, anti-Semitic groups that support boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. Both are closely associated with the International Solidarity Movement and other groups that aid and abet terror against the Jewish State. These groups cross the line for inclusion in the Jewish community.  
  • The film festival made a conscious choice to present a film that lays blame for the accidental death of a civilian at the door of the State of Israel. We are deeply saddened by loss of life, most notably the countless Israeli lives lost and interrupted by virtue of service to their country. Presenting the story of a girl who put herself in harm’s way in no way advances our community dialogue. In fact, it threatens our community purposes.
  • Finally, we are appalled at the film festival’s decision to invite Cindy Corrie into our community. This bereaved mother cannot help but have a negative bias toward Israel. Why would a Jewish organization hand her a microphone and a soapbox from which to condemn Israel as Jewish audiences are expected to sit and listen politely? There is no possible counterbalance to a grieving mother.

Those who cavalierly fling Israel’s future into the grasp of those who would destroy it betray a mainstay of the mainstream Jewish community to support Israel and to counteract anti-Israel propaganda events, speakers and organizations. In this case, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival has aligned itself with the wrong side.


Posted by grf
07/21/2009  at  11:42 AM
What cowards . . .

. . . and insulting to their audience as well, as if the SF audience is too uninformed and ignorant to watch this film and listen to Rachel’s mother without having a Zionist watchdog first informing us what we should think.

As if SFJFF always presents two contrary viewpoints for every controversial film.

As if such an “additional perspective” would add anything to the conversation not already extremely familiar to everyone in the audience.

As if “additional perspectives” would naturally appear as well in any pro-Israel presentation, for there too would be a highly “contested” nature.

Perhaps, one day, groups like the SFJFF will be able to resist what Orwell once referred to as “the tom-tom of latter day tribalism” and stand on its own two feet.

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Posted by MLev
07/22/2009  at  12:19 AM
Muzzlewatch on response of film festival and sponsors

Continuing insanity: Koret Foundation up in arms about Cindy Corrie, Jewish Voice for Peace and the Quakers
Posted on July 22 2009 by Cecilie Surasky

Jewish Voice for Peace [ ], the sponsor of Muzzlewatch, has about 85,000 supporters; an advisory board [ ] that includes some of the best known Jewish thinkers and artists in the world; a program staff and board that is 100% Jewish; members who are rabbis, Holocaust survivors, Jewish educators, yeshiva graduates, Israeli military veterans and more; and an incoming director who has just spent the last three years living in Israel with her family.

And we’re dedicated to justice and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians.

But none of that, apparently, qualifies Jewish Voice for Peace to be part of the Jewish community as defined by….funders! In fact, the experts at the Koret Foundation [ ] have determined that we are, yes, here it comes, you never heard this one before………. “anti-Semites!” How cliche! How funny! How completely unoriginal! (OK, to be fair, that’s not exactly what they called us. What they actually said was “virulently anti-Semitic.” )

In more of the continuing insanity [ ] - and that’s the only way to put it - about the showing of the film Rachel (Corrie), the Koret Foundation, major funders of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, seems to have plagiarized a far-right viral email and turned it into an official, um, “attack-statement.”

(As Muzzlewatch and also JJ Goldberg, former Forward editor has observed [ ], it is conservative funders in the donation-dependent Jewish institutional world who increasingly wield power to define Jewish identity and community moral standards. The economic crisis seems to be fueling this phenomenon. Another theory is that the increasing crackdown on dissent in Israel is now spreading here - something out of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s playbook? After all, the festival has featured anti-occupation films for years. JVP has sponsored many of them. Nary a peep about that, until this year. Why?)

The Koret Foundation is worth something like $400 million. They give to a lot of great programs as well as significant amounts to the right-or-wrong-Israel-advocacy programs [ ].  Their CEO is Tad Taube, so for all intents and purposes, the statement below is from the same person.

(And to just add just more delicious irony, two key staffers of the AFSC’s Middle East program here in San Francisco are Jewish, including Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb. Apparently they’ve been excommunicated by the Koret Foundation as well. Well, everyone knows how mean pacifist Quakers are. Mean! Especially the Jews who work with them!)

  Statement from the Koret and Taube Foundations [ ]:

[see statement above and in Muzzlewatch article . . . edited here due to length]

How stupid do they think Bay Area Jews are?
-Cecilie Surasky

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Posted by jagged ben
07/22/2009  at  10:10 AM
Koret and Taube's ugly smears...

By calling JVP and AFSC “anti-Semtic”, Koret and Taube show themselves to be out of touch with reality and the Bay Area Jewish Community.  They moreover show themselves to be vicious, dishonest, and presumptuous.  Who appointed them to be arbiters of “inclusion in the Jewish community”?  I hope the festival can do without their support; they are hardly its only funders.  It would certainly be better for the Bay Area Jewish community if its Film Festival were not dependent on liars.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
07/22/2009  at  04:20 PM
Talk About Ignorance-What Hypocrisy!

Actually, it’s you grf who is ignorant to think that a Jewish film festival should happily give a propaganda platform to the “aggrieved” Mrs. Corrie who has for years been shilling for Rachel’s ISM, an organization which aids and abetts Palestinian butchers who blow up innocents simply because they are Jews.

More ignorance: Cici-LIE (the more appropriate spelling) Surasky claims that JVP’s online publication Muzzlewatch (sounds like a rag for rabid dogs) has 85,000 supporters. Most mass circulation publications in the US don’t have nearly that number of readers. ‘Course, I could be wrong as an organization which caters to Islamofascists may well have that many readers in the Muslim fundamentalist world. That could be why JVP stands for Jewish Voice for Palestinians—the “P” certainly couldn’t possibly stand for “peace.”

And when fellow “convenient idiot” (that’s what Hamas et al doubtless call JVP and the ISM) jagged ben calls Koret and Taube out of touch with the Bay Area Jewish community, that’s when we know that ignorance and ideology has triumped over logic.

Above we have the evidence that the three JVP posters have much in common with fellow Bay Area Jewish anti-Semites, KPFA’s Dennis Bernstein and Barbara Lubin. I suspect this demonstrates that cretinous bigots may come from all ethnicities…

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Posted by jagged ben
07/22/2009  at  08:56 PM
Where's the rationality?

Dan, there’s nothing in your comment here except name-calling, speculation, and guilt by association.  It doesn’t leave a very good impression.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
07/22/2009  at  09:18 PM
Let's see jagged ben, you

Let’s see jagged ben, you call your castigation of the respected Koret and Taube Foundations and absurd allegations that they are “out of touch with reality and the Jewish community” not the most inane form of tarring well earned fine reputations?

Yes, Saint Rachel Corrie is guilty by choosing to associate with her anti-Semitic colleagues in the ISM just as the JVP is by its regular rationalization of Palestinian terrorism.

Moreover, our fine up-standing guest Cindy Corrie is definitively guilty for both shilling for ISM anti-Semitic goons as well as for justifying or ignoring butchery by those wonderful, “blameless” Palestinians her disgusting daughter’s actions defended.

Not only do you folks in Jewish Voice for Palestinians leave a terrible impression, your aiding and abetting the cause of murdering innocent Jews is, to put it mildly, despicable…

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Posted by jagged ben
07/22/2009  at  09:37 PM
You're certainly predictable.

Dan, you just call anyone who takes a principled stand that Palestinians have human rights just like Jews (and everyone else) an anti-Semite and an abetter of terrorism.  People getting tired of hearing a skipping record, you know.

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
07/22/2009  at  10:08 PM
JVP Lacks the Capacity for Critical Analysis

Ben, many of us who support Israel have openly criticized certain aspects of Israeli policy.

On the other hand, when has Jewish Voice for Palestine EVER critiqued terrorist acts by Hamas, the advocacy of genocide by the Hamas charter, the apartheid manifest by the Palestinians in their brutal treatment of women and gays, the disgusting efforts by Rachel Corrie to program Palestinian grade school children with propaganda, etc., etc.?

In sum, it can be said that when it comes to saying something critical about the barbaric behavior so frequently manifest by Palestinians, JVP and ISM are always MIA.

You folks are indeed drones—treated as foreign “convenient idiots” by your Palestinian overlords. If I am in error in this, do please critique the Palestinians whose ofttimes inhumane behavior truly merits condemnation…

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Posted by jagged ben
07/23/2009  at  08:57 AM
So easy to debunk...

JVP has not only critiqued Hamas, it has condemned their acts numerous times.

Here is one example:

The ISM’s opposition to terrorism is also very clear:

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Posted by jagged ben
07/23/2009  at  09:05 AM
One other thing...

Of course American tax dollars aren’t supporting Hamas in the same way they supporting Israel, either.

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Posted by MLev
07/23/2009  at  01:05 AM
Koret Foundation Flays San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Over Corrie Documentary

Koret Foundation Flays San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Over Corrie Documentary
Richard Silverstein
Tikun Olam
July 22nd, 2009

[An excerpt from the article—for the full article, which has not been posted here due to length, go to: ]

In yet another incident in which the wealthy, powerful, tired old American Jewish leadership tries to tell the rest of us what’s good and bad for us and Israel, the Koret Foundation [ ] has excoriated the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival for screening an Israeli documentary about the life and death of Rachel Corrie.  Even worse than screening the film, for the pro-Israel foundation which funds many Jewish projects and organizations in the Bay Area and beyond, was an invitation to Corrie’s mother, Cindi, to attend and answer audience questions.  But before we delve into the controversy, let’s learn a bit about the film [ ]
[ . . . . ]
So what we have here is a balanced, dispassionate film by an Israeli filmmaker which investigates the death of a highly controversial figure.  This might cause some debate among audience members or within the community.  But the level of vitriol that Koret has managed to elicit is astounding.

Besides inviting Corrie’s mother, the other reason Koret has a bee in its bonnet is that SFJFF invited two local organizations to co-sponsor the film, Jewish Voice for Peace and American Friends Service Committee.  [. . . ] While it’s true that JVP is often reviled in these circles, often the revulsion is based on complete ignorance of the group’s real positions. [. . . . ]

The Koret statement is not only hysterical, as I noted, but it is full of outright lies as much rightist pro-Israel propaganda is.  First, JVP is neither anti-Semitic, nor “virulently anti-Israel.”  In fact, together with J Street, it is one of the most effective Jewish peace groups out there.  [ . . . . ] JVP is neither “closely” associated with the International Solidarity Movement, nor associated with it at all.  This too is a flat out lie.  And as for its association with “other groups that aid and abet terror against the Jewish state,” this is such an empty charge as to be unworthy of address.  I would point out though that Koret doesn’t even name any of the other groups so you can’t very well even refute the calumny.

Interesting that Koret finds JVP a group that “crosses the line for inclusion in the Jewish community.”  So in effect, the Foundation has excommunicated the Jewish peace group.  Aren’t you glad that we Jews stopped doing that after the Dutch Jews put Baruch Spinoza in herem?  Unfortunately, no one’s told Ted Taube, director of the Foundation that fact.

The Foundation is so frightened of the impact of telling Corrie’s story through the Festival that it claims it will “threaten our community purposes.”  What is astonishing about this is that an award-winning Israeli documentarian has decided that Corrie’s story is worth making a film about; yet an American Jewish organization believes the same project will damage the community.  Does Koret have such a fragile sense of the strength of the American Jewish community that hearing Rachel Corrie’s story threatens us in some profound way?  What does this say about Koret’s view of Jewish identity?

Also mind-boggling is the objection to hearing Cindi Corrie speak about her daughter.  Somehow hearing Ms. Corrie’s maternal suffering will damage Israel again in some fundamental way.  The very notion is preposterous.  Audience members are intelligent enough to absorb Corrie’s views and integrate them with their own.  Cindi Corrie isn’t going to poison anyone and turn them away from Israel forever over her remarks.  In fact, if you want to be a true supporter of Israel you should be willing to listen to all reasonable critical perspectives including hers.

I also strongly take issue with this rather opaque statement demanding absolute loyalty in order to be a member in good-standing of the Jewish community (”a mainstay of the mainstream Jewish community [is] to support Israel and to counteract anti-Israel propaganda events”).  Is it the purpose of the mainstream community to counteract anti-Israel propaganda?  Perhaps it is a mainstay of Aipac, the Israel Project, ZOA, or other Israel lobby groups.  But is this the sine qua non of what it means to participate in our community?  I think not.  I’d rather that the main quality of being a member of the Jewish community is being a thinking Jew, of caring about the issues that affect Jewish life and identity, of grappling with the problems facing us.  But no, our job as good Jews is not to fight the good fight for Israel–at least not in the sense that Taube defines it.
[. . . .]

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Posted by Dan Spitzer
07/23/2009  at  07:07 AM
An "Independent, Authoritative" Source

A member of (JVP) Jewish Voice for Palestine just posted a commentary from Richard Silverstein’s “Tikkun Olam” blog. For those who don’t know Silverstein’s blog, like JVP Silverstein believes that Israel is a fascist, imperialist society and that the Palestinians are blameless innocents.

‘Nuff said about “Tikkun Olam”—a nice name cloaking an insidious perspective—anaylses which of course jibe with those of JVP.

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Posted by jmendelsohn
07/25/2009  at  12:11 AM
I would expect a film

I would expect a film of this Nature to be shown at S.F. State or U.C. Berkeley where Palestinians, Muslims, Anti Semites, Jews of which there are many in the Bay Area who hate Israel and don’t care if it exists, all gather at their own Film Festival. They can all rejoice that Israel is portrayed as an evil empire. Lets face it this film was funded and supported by everyone of Israel’s enemies including former President Jimmy Carter and for Jews to get together and be subjected to watch errors in Israels judgement to defend itself is not a festival, its depressing and will have a backlash. I expect the SF Bay Area Jewish Community to be more divided than ever and future funding might stop. I’m not afraid of controversy Michael and yes Beverly we should let our opinions of Israel be know but at what price. There is only one Jewish Country and that is Israel. What is our future if we allow Jews to support festivals of this kind?  The San Francisco Bay Area has an intermarriage rate of 80+ percent.(Los Angeles Jewish Journel 2008) Only 40 percent of the members of the new $100 million dollar Jewish Community Center in SF are Jewish. The Bay Area has one of the lowest percentages of Bar & Bat Mitzvahs. One of the lowest enrollment in Sunday School, Hebrew School, Confirmation Classes. One of the lowest percentages of young college students who go on Birthright to Israel and that’s a Freebie for all Jewish Sudents. For it’s size and Wealth San Francisco donations to Israel is near the bottom of the list. Few Jewish Parents send their children to Jewish Summer Camps. Some Jews are protesting against Israel every year at Israeli Independence Day Celebrations. Jewish Students were attacked at S.F. State by Palestinians and Muslim Students and the community was silent.
Israel is the only insurance policy that Jews around the world have that another mad man will come along and murder another 6 million Jews. If you can’t deal with the reality that Israel will have to use all it’s powers to defend itself and Jews around the world it’s time you started looking for another religion. It will never be easy to be a Jew, but when I hear Jews of the San Francisco Bay Area are subjecting their fellow jews to watch a film that makes us out to be monsters for defending ourselfs well it just chips away at the Jewish Future. Don’t forgive me for my thoughts and feelings on this issue, my parents are Holocaust Survivors the sole survivors of thier families and many of my friends who live in the Bay Area are just like me 1st generation American. My father always said if their had been a Jewish Country called Israel there may never have been a Holocaust. Lets dedicate ourself to becoming a stronger more cohesive
united people and one that stands and supports Israel without conditions. Thank You.
Jerry M. Mendelsohn
Los Angeles, CA

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